Thursday, July 28, 2005

A Different Kind of Mathematician

Boy was it great to see the Discovery make a safe lift-off the other day. Here's to a successful mission and a safe return.

However, the constant front page updates on every little detail of the trip seem a bit over the top; the shuttle is getting the kind of coverage our press usually reserves for missing white women. That got me thinking about manned (or for you more sensitive types, "mynned") space flight and NASA. Nothing generates good publicity like the successful launching of a shuttle, and there's nothing like good publicity to ensure that NASA remains better funded than any of them pointless government programs aimed at helping - gasp - people.

Space exploration is awesome. It expands our understanding of the universe, boosts our national morale, gives us cool screen savers, and provides a wonderful marketing vehicle for crappy products such as Tang. (I, for one, am glad I can't get no Tang 'round here.) But why do we have to send people into space? Unmanned space exploration is way cheaper, offers a much greater range of study options (you'd have to hold your breath a really long time to stay on Mars as long as the rovers have), and usually doesn't kill anyone but the homeless people who are sleeping on the launching platform for warmth.

I know, there are valid reasons to send humans into space. But are any of them worth the risking of human life? Why not spend a couple decades sending up probes while also developing safer, cheaper, better vehicles for humans? Let's thin the gravy train to Boeing and Lockheed et al.; if people want to send up a human, let them start a charity and see how much money they can raise.

Last thing. Remember how, after the tragedy of '03, they spent a zillion dollars investigating the problem and designing solutions? Didn't work. Even with the Discovery still up in the sky, NASA has announced they will once again ground shuttles, for the same foam problem they had in '03.


Studiodave said...

I agree 100%. I always enjoy the TV segments where they interview the scientists who are growing crystals on sea monkeys to see if they better cure cancer.

Clinton's world's space station thing was cute given we could quietly justify it as "if the Russians are working on this they won't build new bombs for the 3rd world." But alas, the Russians couldn't build anything to budget (see organized crime) and we couldn't get it up.

Dude, I totally said "get it up."

Otto Man said...

I think you're overlooking a key problem. In the Bush administration's clear desire to mess up this planet in every possible way, we're going to need a new home soon.

To quote Dave Chappelle, "Mars, bitches!"

Mrs_Thrillhous said...

Remember how, after the tragedy of '03, they spent a zillion dollars investigating the problem and designing solutions?

I remember the immediate funding of a huge investigation. And I remember that they didn't want to investigate what led to 9/11.

Scott said...

You can't use the risk of human life as a reason not to go. These people are willing to risk their own lives. Who are you to say they can't? Especially since virtually everyone agrees that they have the right to risk their life in the military, the police, as an aid worker in Africa... It's not as if the shuttle explosions are killing innocent bystanders. These are people who would gladly give their lives for the chance to travel in space.
If you want to say the financial side is not worth it, make your argument, but don't invoke these people who volunteered.

Thrillhous said...

That's a great point, Scott (thanks for your comment!). Our astronauts are more than willing to risk their lives for the opportunity to go into space. I really am mainly concerned about the financial aspect, and I would've done better to keep the financial part separate from the human part.

I do think, however, there's something else at play here. These folks are certainly willing participants, but should our government be facilitating such risks? Our military and police risk their lives everyday, but the payoff is very clear: they keep the rest of us safe. The payoff from manned space flight is more ambiguous, especially compared to the payoff from unmanned flight. Should our government be putting lives at risk for a possibly negligible gain?